Chasing Polarbears in Svalbard

My parents celebrated their 120th birthday (2x60th), so we decided to give them a gift that combines my father’s love for motorbiking with the wish of my mother to finally see bears in the wildness. Where could you better combine those two things than in Svalbard/Spitzbergen where you can go on a snowscooter safari to discover the wildlife of the north.

So off we went and welcomed our parents to Oslo, the starting point of our trip to the north.

There is no direct flight to Longyearbyen from Oslo, so we had a short stop over at Tromsø before our trip continued to Svalbard.

Upon arrival we simply had to do a short walk downtown to inspect the “city” of Longyearbyen. You can definitely see the heritage of years of mining with all the transportation lines that still go through the city. In addition it is interesting to see how they built their houses. Before you can build a house you need to put pillars into the earth deep enough to go below the permafrost –  first after waiting through a complete winter you can start building your house upon these pillars. Also the wildlife comes directly into town – we saw wild rendeers just next to some houses and people said that Polar bears often find their way into town. That’s why you should carry a rifle with you when you leave downtown.

The next day we took a short guided tour to learn a bit more about Svalbard and Longyearbyen. We saw a bit of the mines, learned that reindeers here look different  than in other places (due to the harsh climate) and visited the Global Seed Vault as well as the radio station.

Time for action. First we went to cave exploring. After a hike up the mountain with snow shoes it was time to get into the cave. Getting in was one thing – nothing for claustrophobic people to move through a hole barely 80cm in diameter – but the way out was way more complicated. However, once we were down there we went through the icy cave and our headlamps made the ice glow in different colors. After we had a little bite inside the cave, we made our way out of the cave again – and that was really harder than we could imagine. However we made it out there and walked down to Longyearbyen again.

Next thing on the agenda: snowscooter safari. Our planned route should lead us to the east side of the island where we were hoping to see some polar bears. Unfortunately we came right into a white out and the guide decided to go back –  it was too dangerous to continue, both because the terrain was tricky and it wouldn’t be to much fun to stop next to a polar bear and not seeing it #easycatch…

After getting back again we re-capped the impressions from a couple of days during a nice dinner and made us ready for our flight back to Oslo.

We returned to Oslo and the Norwegian spring, using the great weather for a short hike in Nordmarka before my parents had to go home again to good old Austria. Unfortunately we haven’t seen a polarbear in real life, but that just opens for a new trip to Alaska to see the grizzlies 😉

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